God Knows Us

“O Lord, You have examined my heart 
and know everything about me.”
‭Psalms‬ ‭139:1‬ ‭NLT‬‬

The thought that God knows everything about us, good and bad, is both comforting and scary at the same time. In the next few verses, the Psalmist, David, goes on to say that God is intimately acquainted with not just what we are doing but even what is about to come out of our mouths. Distance and time are no problem to God. And there is nothing that we can do to escape His presence; should we want to, of course. So if we know all that, why do we get so caught up in doing things that we know would cause God pain? The sins that blight our lives. Actions that are just plain wrong. The Apostle Paul felt that frustration. He wrote in Romans 7, “I have discovered this principle of life – that when I want to do what is right, I inevitably do what is wrong.” Thankfully God forgives us of our sins when we repent. And we allow His life-giving Spirit to lead and guide us, and live within us (Romans 8). 

But back to our Psalm. It gets better and better. The wonder in David’s heart comes out in verse 5, as he remarks that God goes before him and follows him. Can you imagine that? God is there right in front of us, leading the way. Pointing out the pot-holes in life to help us to avoid them. But in case we still stumble and fall, there He is behind us, picking us up and dusting us off. And there’s more – if we look up, there’s His hand of blessing about to touch our heads. It is no wonder that David can’t cope with what it all means, as we read in verse 6. And he continues to meditate on God’s omnipresence, which extends all the way from Heaven to the place the Jews called Sheol (verse 8). And the lovely word picture emerges of David riding “the wings of the morning” and “dwelling by the farthest oceans” (verse 9). And he finishes this section with the thought that God is always there in the dark, because it is light to Him. Perhaps there’s a comforting thought there for people who do have a fear of the dark.

There is an amazing truth in this Psalm. No matter how we view God. No matter if we reject Him and try and run away from Him, He is still there with us. Embracing us. Encouraging us. Blessing us. All because He loves us. So if we’re feeling neglected and unloved today, we are believing a lie. Our enemy, the devil, would want to deprive us of God’s presence and His blessings. But he can’t. We reach out, switching on our God-receptors; switching off our devil-receptors. And because God knows our very thoughts, He will complete the circuit. Connecting us to His throne room. Giving us a glimpse of His wonder. Helping us in our life-pilgrimage, every step of the way.

The Spirit-filled Life

Oh, that my actions would consistently 
reflect Your decrees! 
Then I will not be ashamed 
when I compare my life with Your commands.
Psalms‬ ‭119:5-6‬ ‭NLT‬‬

In our pilgrimage through life why is that we inevitably do things that we shouldn’t? Intuitively we have a good idea of what we should be doing. Much of the time we know what the Bible says about the way we should or shouldn’t live. At other times we receive a disturbing nudge from our consciences. But come what may, we still end up frustrated with ourselves because we did wrong. The Bible calls this dilemma sin. I’m sure we’ve all been in this place, and we will come up against it again in tomorrow’s part of our journey, but that is of small comfort. As I said earlier – we inevitably do things we shouldn’t. The Psalmist in today’s verses was equally frustrated. We don’t know what he’d done to cause his cry of exasperation, but it was something that didn’t line up with God’s ways. And it was something he was ashamed of, so perhaps there was a public element about his actions.

The Apostle Paul expressed a similar degree of annoyance with himself. He said in Romans 7:21, “I have discovered this principle of life – that when I want to do what is right, I inevitably do what is wrong.” Sound familiar? He goes on to say, “Oh, what a miserable person I am! Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death? Thank God! The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord. So you see how it is: In my mind I really want to obey God’s law, but because of my sinful nature I am a slave to sin.” 

Thankfully Paul’s journey didn’t end in verse 24 of Romans 7. We read in the next chapter, “So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus. And because you belong to him, the power of the life-giving Spirit has freed you from the power of sin that leads to death.”

At this time of year we remember the coming of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. The Son of God was born into this world, where He experienced all the problems and temptations that we do. And because of that He understands our issues of life. He understands our constant battles with sin. He was here Himself, but he didn’t sin. In fact, at Calvary He took on all our sins Himself to free us to live in line with the Holy Spirit life to which we have been called.

The Psalmist felt and expressed that heart cry – how can I live God’s way without polluting it with my sin? And in answer he tried to line his life with God’s decrees. A form of legalism? But sadly, it’s a trap we too can fall into. We try and live by our own efforts to avoid having to come as a repentant sinner into God’s presence. By setting ourselves rules and regulations that we can keep, and that makes us feel holy and righteous. But there is no alternative to living under God’s grace, living the Spirit-filled life. So instead of living by rules, we live our lives infused with the Holy Spirit, allowing Him to lead and guide us, allowing Him to bring to the surface all our sins and allowing us to repent of them. Living a life walking close to God, not through our efforts trying to live by His rules. Jesus said, “… I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full (John 10:10). That’s the only way to live.

Covenants

He always stands by his covenant—
    the commitment he made to a thousand generations.
Psalm 105:8 NLT

This verse describes God’s faithfulness in the covenant He made to His people, the Jews. It’s a covenant He is going to keep. What was it? A covenant is a binding agreement made between two parties. And in Genesis 17 we read, “.. This is the everlasting covenant: I will always be your God and the God of your descendants after you“. He will not try and wriggle His way out of it, when the going gets tough, as humans might do. But the covenantal agreement between God and His people was in two parts. God promised for His part to be always with them. And for their part they had to be obedient to Him and His laws, with a regime of sacrifices to atone for their sins. And as far as God was concerned His promise was eternal. Sadly, we see from the Old Testament the constant struggle the Jewish nation had in keeping their part of the agreement. 

Through Jesus, God brought about a New Covenant. This New Covenant was mentioned by Jeremiah – he could see, through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, a time coming when God would initiate a New Covenant. We read in Jeremiah 31:33, “But this is the new covenant I will make with the people of Israel after those days,” says the Lord. “I will put my instructions deep within them, and I will write them on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people.” In Hebrews 7:22, we read, “…Jesus is the one who guarantees this better covenant with God“. In the New Covenant, God offered the free gift of forgiveness for our sins through Jesus’ sacrificial death at Calvary, and our responsibility is to have faith in what He did for us, in the process enjoying an eternal relationship with God.

But will God’s commitment come to an end? In today’s verse the Psalmist points out that God has limited His covenant to a thousand generations. It doesn’t seem so much until we realise that the genealogies in the Bible add up to around one hundred generations from Adam until today. So a thousand generations is as good as eternity.
But the important point of the Covenant is that God is a real, loving, Heavenly Father, His Son Jesus died to redeem us from the consequences of our sins, and we have an invitation to spend eternity with Him. Seems a good deal to me.

Eternal and Infinite

For His unfailing love toward those who fear Him
    is as great as the height of the heavens above the earth.
He has removed our sins as far from us
    as the east is from the west.
The Lord is like a father to His children,
    tender and compassionate to those who fear Him.
For He knows how weak we are;
    He remembers we are only dust.
Psalm 103:11-14 NLT

David is back writing at the Psalmist’s desk. Scratching away with his God-thoughts, recording eternal words through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. And once again his thoughts turn to how much God loves His children. In describing the relationship we have with God, he uses the word “fear” but that can have negative connotations. In our world and culture, perhaps a better word would be “respect”, though with a depth far beyond a man-limited meaning. In the Lord’s Prayer, we “hallow” His name. Another good word. And David points out that God’s love for His hallowers is so great that it is unmeasurable. The heavens extend a distance above us, a distance measured in eternal units, with a hint of infinity creeping in. In other words, God’s love is so great that it is unlimited and eternal, unmeasurable and unquantifiable. We must never think that there is insufficient to go around. 

And David then moves his thoughts away from God’s love to our sins. The reality is that once we have confessed and repented of our sins, God removes them. In fact, He puts them a place that is as far away from us as the East is from the West. A wonderful analogy, because we don’t know the start and finish of either place. No sooner then we define a place as being “East” then we know there is another place further “East”. The circular nature of our world, rather than the flat representation on a school room wall, drives the compass points. But what is the implication of all that? God forgets our confessed and repented of sins. They don’t exist anymore. That have been erased from the Heavenly record books. Have we ever been in a situation where we have repented of a past sin again, perhaps from many years ago, just in case we forgot? Well, God takes out His record books and can’t find any mention of it. So He comes back to us and tells us so. He is the perfect Father, divinely tender and compassionate. 

In all the world religions there is only one, Christianity, in which the worshipped god came down to earth as a human being. Jesus, God’s Son, therefore knows what it is like to be human, and he shared our weaknesses when He walked around the Palestinian countryside. He got tired and hungry as we do. He was tempted as we are. And when He returned to Heaven, we read in Romans 8 that He is sitting at God’s right hand, interceding for us. Our loving Lord is the only “god” who knows “how weak we are”.

Today, we have been granted another opportunity from our allotted time span on earth to come before our tender and compassionate Heavenly Father, resting in His presence, feeling His heartbeat of forgiveness, and assured of His love. Let’s not waste the moment.

Write it Down

“Let this be recorded for future generations,
    so that a people not yet born will praise the Lord.
Tell them the Lord looked down
    from his heavenly sanctuary.
He looked down to earth from heaven
   to hear the groans of the prisoners,
   to release those condemned to die.
And so the Lord’s fame will be celebrated in Zion,
    his praises in Jerusalem,
when multitudes gather together
    and kingdoms come to worship the Lord.”
Psalm 102:18-22 NLT

Psalm 102 details the troubles the poor Psalmist is enduring. But through it all he never lost his faith in God. And he appeals to his readers to make sure they record the Lord’s goodness for future generations. He highlights information about where God lives, and how He interacts with human beings, looking down, hearing and releasing. He looks down to see what is going on and straight away the injustice of those being imprisoned gets His attention. He hears their “groans” and he “releases those condemned to die“. And as a consequence the Psalmist points out that one day, at the end of the age, Jerusalem will see the congregation of all the world’s nations coming “to worship the Lord“.

But who are these prisoners? Those condemned to die? In the UK we have prisons bursting at the seams, full of people incarcerated for doing wrong. And I know in some countries, there are people languishing in death rows. Waiting for their end. But why would God single these people out for “hearing” and “releasing”? God is interested in all people. He loves them all. No, more likely, the Psalmist is referring to people who are prisoners because of their sins, and who are condemned to die as a consequence. God looks down from Heaven with a breaking heart, yearning for His people to understand that the prison doors are open. That their choices are keeping them there and, worse, keeping them on death row as well. The Apostle Paul wrote in his epistle to the Galatians that, “But the Scriptures declare that we are all prisoners of sin, so we receive God’s promise of freedom only by believing in Jesus Christ.” That’s the open door, folks. 

Those of us who have embraced God’s gift of freedom, who are no longer locked in a prison of sin, need to write down our stories. Write down our testimonies of how God’s grace and mercy opened our prison doors. Because the generations coming behind us need to know too about our wonderful Creator God. About His love and compassion. About what He has done for us. 

If there is anyone reading this blog today, and feel as though they are locked in a prison cell, unable to escape. Oppressed by the enemy. Blighted by negative thoughts of how bad they are. Their self image plumbing depths of despair. Then reach out to the only One who can set us free. The only key to our prison cells is soaked in the blood of Jesus, our wonderful Saviour, our wonderful Releaser, our wonderful Lord.

Honey From the Rock

“If My people would only listen to Me, 
if Israel would only follow My ways, 
how quickly I would subdue their enemies 
and turn My hand against their foes! 
Those who hate the Lord would cringe before Him, 
and their punishment would last for ever. 
But you would be fed with the finest of wheat; 
with honey from the rock I would satisfy you.
Psalms‬ ‭81:13-16‬ ‭NIVUK‬‬

What a wonderful and compassionate God He is! In spite of their rebellious and stubborn hearts, God continually reaches out to His people. The phrase “if My people” occurs several times in the Bible. And in particular in 2 Chronicle 7:14 God again used the phrase “if My people”. We read, “if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.” He was consistent in His advice and appeals to His people, that if they followed His ways all would be well, but if they didn’t, then disasters would overtake them.

The same advice applies today. We see our political leaders diverging from God’s ways, embracing the advice of godless people and following their own deceitful wishes, and by so doing legislating wickedness into our statute books. And unintended consequences emerge, causing difficulties and misery to many. “If My people would only listen to Me” is advice that has been rejected. We see people around us in our communities, who too have rejected His ways, instead blindly following the paths of sin and wickedness that lead to a sticky end.

So we, as God’s people, pray. Seek His face. Repent of our sins. And all in the knowledge that God will truly hear us from Heaven. And we pray that He will have mercy on our nations, forgiving our national sins. But sadly those who hate God will one day discover their eternal punishment. We have to use every opportunity to introduce them, through Jesus, to our gracious God and help them follow His ways. There is no other solution to their otherwise terrible fate.

But to end on a positive, we read the lovely picture of enjoying the “finest of wheat” and “honey from the rock”. A picture of not just ordinary provision, but a banquet of plenty never before experienced. We get a picture of natural and spiritual provision directly from God, bringing a state of satisfaction almost unheard of and only dreamed about. In the eternal context of the previous verse, perhaps God is painting a picture of our Heavenly home. Providing a hint of the wonderful life we will have one day in His presence, a seat at His table of plenty.

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The Sins of our Ancestors

“O Lord, how long will You be angry with us? Forever?
How long will Your jealousy burn like fire? 
Do not hold us guilty for the sins of our ancestors! 
Let Your compassion quickly meet our needs, 
     for we are on the brink of despair.”
Psalms‬ ‭79:5, 8‬ ‭NLT‬‬

This is not a comfortable Psalm to read, with its references to blood shed and misery, death and destruction. The Psalmist equates the reason for the devastation to God’s extreme displeasure with the Jewish nation, accusing God of acting in anger and jealousy against His people. But in the middle of his lament, is an appeal to God, for His compassion to displace the judgement. Asaph, the Psalmist, obviously believes that God is acting now because of the misbehaviour, the rebellion, the unfaithfulness, of previous generations. And he perhaps questions the fairness of such action. But God was quite clear – in Exodus 34 God said through Moses, “I lavish unfailing love to a thousand generations. I forgive iniquity, rebellion, and sin. But I do not excuse the guilty. I lay the sins of the parents upon their children and grandchildren; the entire family is affected— even children in the third and fourth generations.” Eventually God will act in judgement against guilty people, people who stack up their individual and national sins until He can stand it no more. But nevertheless, Asaph pleads with God to have mercy, to show compassion, on his people in a time of a national disaster, a time of despair. Perhaps the chink of light in this verse of warning is the reference to the guilty. Thankfully God is a God of compassion and love, as well as One of judgement, of anger and jealousy. And Asaph appeals to Him to show compassion, in the process forgiving the people for the sins of their ancestors. And to quickly come and mitigate their guilt and despair, to provide what they need.

So the inevitable question. How relevant is this Psalm in 21st Century societies? It’s a warning to us all. God is “slow to anger, quick to bless”, thankfully. Otherwise the rebellion and sins of our nations would have led to our destruction long ago. I probably wouldn’t even be here, writing this blog. And that is the key – God allows mankind to exist, even when acting sinfully, because of His grace and mercy. He gives everyone an opportunity for repentance, for embracing Him while there is still time, during our lives here on earth.

Being an Example

My life is an example to many,
because you have been my strength and protection.
That is why I can never stop praising you;
I declare your glory all day long.
Psalm 71:7-8

Who can say, as David did in this Psalm, “My life is an example to many”. But how can he have the utter cheek to make such a claim after his very public and disgraceful affair with Bathsheba? Is he saying that anyone can behave in that way and it’s no big deal? Before we answer that question, it might be worth considering another similar occasion. When Peter was caught out by Jesus after denying Him, in His time of need, not just once, but three times. We can read the passage in Matthew 26. This wasn’t just a private occurrence – Peter made his denials publicly in front of a group of people. And we can read in John 21 how the risen Jesus took Peter through repentance to becoming a rock, on which Jesus said He would build His church.

So back to David. He also repented of his terrible sins and received God’s forgiveness. There are no sins that God will not cleanse us from. We have not done anything so bad that Jesus will refuse to pardon us. And like David, we too can be an example to many. In our communities we can be an example to our friends and neighbours, and by our lives we may the only glimpse of Jesus that many people will ever see. 

Those of us who have repented of our sins can stand before God wearing the righteousness of Jesus. How do I know? The Bible says so in 2 Corinthians 5:21, “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God“. So if God declares me righteous, as He did with David and Peter and countless others, I too can be an example to many. I have blogged before about the Pastor of a church in Glasgow, who was a drug dealer, imprisoned for his crime, saved through the ministry of Teen Challenge, and who returned to the very community in which he dealt drugs as their Minister and Pastor. I’m sure, at least initially, the community scoffed at him, as they did with Jesus when He preached in His home town of Nazareth. But the reformed drug dealer is now an amazing testimony to the grace of God. Like David, he too can say his life is an example to many. 

And so the challenge to us is this – as reformed sinners can we too be examples to those around us, telling about God’s strength and protection, and declaring His glory all day long? A thought for today?

Answered Prayer

You who answer prayer,
to you all people will come.
When we were overwhelmed by sins,
you forgave our transgressions.
Psalm 65:2-3 NIV

Another Davidic Psalm. He was certainly a prolific Psalmist, but so much of his writings bubble up out of a heart firmly fixed and grounded in his Father God. In verse 2 of this Psalm, David drops in the unequivocal statement that God answers prayer. In Matthew 21:22, Jesus said, “If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer“. There’s the story of a woman living in the coal belt in Wales, who got so fed up with a slag heap located behind her house that she took the words of Jesus at face value and prayed one night for God to remove the mountain. The next morning it was still there. Her response was, “I didn’t think prayer would work anyway”. An example of unbelieving prayer? When Jesus spoke about asking for something in prayer, there is implied within the request the assurance that what is being asked for is in accordance with God’s will. There is also the implied requirement for having faith that God is who He says He is, and that He will grant the request. Sometimes we try and pray beyond our faith. For example if I pray for revival to break out in my nation, is that within the faith that I have? Perhaps I need to start with praying for my next door neighbour, developing my faith muscles in the process. Both belief and faith required a living, breathing relationship with our Heavenly Father. In Matthew 7:7, Jesus said, “Ask and it will be given to you…”. The word ask in this context means to keep on asking, being persistent in prayer. 

But after all this, we have to accept that our believing, faith-filled, persistent prayer requests may not be answered in the way, or with the result, we hoped for. These are the times when we need to trust God, because only He knows what is best for us. However, there is one prayer that God always answers with a resounding “Yes”. That is the prayer for forgiveness for all our sins. In 1 John 1:9, the Apostle John wrote, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” We need never be overwhelmed by our sins again. We can live a life free of guilt and sin. Thank You Lord!

Illness

“You know what I long for, Lord; You hear my every sigh. 
My heart beats wildly, my strength fails, and I am going blind. 
My loved ones and friends stay away, fearing my disease. 
Even my own family stands at a distance.”
Psalms‬ ‭38:9-11‬ ‭NLT‬‬

David, the Psalmist, is ill. And it sounds pretty serious. Serious enough for people to keep well out of his way. We don’t have any clues from Scripture about what he was suffering from, but he was complaining well. 

How do we react in times of illness? Of course it depends on how serious the situation is. Some people are positive and stoical. Others see the Grim Reapers coming up the garden path with the first snivel. I’m the worst when it comes to illness, complaining and ruing the injustices in life before whatever I have caught even takes a hold. In this Covid pandemic, however, we’re reminded once again of the frailty of human life and how vulnerable we are to the damage microscopic organisms can do to us. Unless we lock ourselves away to avoid contact with the people and the environment around us, we will always be at risk of catching something. 

But in His wonderful design, our Creator God has provided two defence mechanisms. One is the natural process our bodies go through to deal with infections, our immune systems, boosted by the vaccines and drugs provided by modern science. The other is the power of prayer and the importance of our relationship with Father God, particularly when the illness is more serious and as yet beyond what medical science can treat. 

What was it about the great missionary doctors and nurses, who in past ages deliberately ignored the risk of infections, instead to minister compassionately to those with horrible illnesses like leprosy? Or those Christians in the Middle Ages, who stayed behind to nurse plague victims while everyone else did a runner? These were dear people who often died at a young age from illnesses caught from those they were ministering to. They had that realisation that our time here on Planet Earth is finite and our lives as Citizens of Heaven has to be lived in accordance with God’s will and purposes; they dedicated their lives to the care of others. 

But David also made the association between his feverish state and his sins and guilt. Is there such a connection? Many people have argued that there isn’t but others, even the medics, have found that an uneasy and guilt-ridden conscience can impact our bodily functions. Personally, I think there is a link, because God has designed us with something called a conscience inside of us; the violation of it will upset our physical and mental well-being and equilibrium, as our Psalmist David knew well.

David finished his Psalm with the prayer, “Come quickly to help me, O Lord my Saviour.” There are two significant words and sentiments here – “help” and “Saviour”. God is always our Helper; He is only a prayer away from our predicament. And He is also our wonderful Saviour. What a wonderful God He is!